Note: this story contains the mention of a suicide, though with no details about it; it is an essential part of the story, but I don’t want to shock anyone with it.
. . . . . . .
Last November a friend called later in the evening for help with one of the cats she was fostering. Earlier in the day the two sisters had escaped their foster room and while she’d managed to get one of them back into the room, the other had cornered herself under the bed in another room and was acting truly hostile, enough that my friend felt she couldn’t handle her and needed an extra pair of hands and some ideas to get the cat safely back into familiar surroundings.
I usually keep up with my friend’s fosters as there have been many stray and feral cats on her street and she’s worked to trap, neuter and return them while feeding on her porch, or foster and find homes for them. These two I didn’t know of at all, two young, petite tortie cats named Holly and Molly.
She briefly explained their story, and the reason they might act seemingly feral though they’d belonged to her neighbor. They were about two years old and had been adopted by the neighbor from a litter of kittens a family member was giving away. They had likely never seen a vet or another person other than their adopter, and while she cuddled with both on her lap and talked about them as her girls, she had also remarked they could be hard to handle.
Sadly, about two months prior to the night they had escaped their room, the woman who had adopted them committed suicide and wasn’t found for two days. She had opened the door to the house and one cat had gotten outdoors while the other remained inside. My friend had trapped each of them and taken them to her home, keeping them until they could wear off some of the trauma and be socialized enough to be adopted. She would have space with a small cat and dog rescue after Christmas, and if the two turned out to be difficult to adopt for temperament they could live their lives there.
Animals can carry trauma just as we do and are also thought to suffer the same effects of PTSD as humans, reliving a trauma especially when circumstances arise to trigger memories. Poor Holly. This was definitely a case for the gentlest treatment we could give to get her back to her safe space.
In the bedroom the bed was completely taken apart, the mattress and box spring leaning up against furniture. A humane trap was set inside the bed frame with food in it, but Holly had gone hours with no interest, and apparently without moving. We’d decided to try to set up an open carrier somewhere in the frame and try to get her to run into it. I could see that wasn’t going to work, especially when a dark shape inside the area of the frame turned out to be a towel instead of Holly and we had no idea where she was.
We tiptoed around the room peeking here and there for a small tortoiseshell shape, and while we heard growling on one side of the bed we saw no cat until we realized she was inside the bottom one of a stack of wooden crates turned on their sides to be used as storage shelves. She was already so traumatized a description of “feral” was mild and there would be no urging her out of where she was tucked in among shoes, and absolutely no question of reaching in to try to scruff her. She was fully traumatized and it could be hours, days, before she willingly came out of the crate, and then what? She had to get back to her familiar place, it was the only way to help her recover this current trauma.
I asked for a piece of cardboard and tape, quickly placed the cardboard over the opening, removed the other crates in the stack and firmly taped the cardboard over the opening while Holly growled and hissed and spit inside. Carefully lifting our makeshift cat carrier while Holly continued her commentary, adding thwacks against the insides, we carried her into the foster room and opened the door to the big dog cage, pulled off the tape and quickly lifted the cardboard and when she ran to the back of the cage we shut the cage door.
Her growling and yowling quieted after we covered the cage completely with a quilt and added some of the flower essences I’d brought to her water and dripped some through the cage bars onto her blankets and on her, and also applying some to her sister Molly who was frightened but not acting in any way like her sister.
The foster room was also my friend’s home office, an ideal setup for socializing cats. As we quietly talked about the two cats and their situation, and convinced Molly to play with a feather toy, we heard Holly’s raging subside, and finally she was quiet inside the cage. She could stay inside the cage overnight with her food and water and litter and the essences, then hopefully the door could be opened in the morning.
I left and the next morning heard the two were pretty much back to normal that morning. “I’m happy to report Holly & Molly are much improved this morning. Both have eaten and made extensive use of the litter pan (stinky phew!) and both are roaming the office freely.” She said she’d uncaged Holly the night before so Molly could use the box, and that they were “being grouchy towards ‘each other’” but both were welcoming petting and play with her. She’d continued to use the essences and they seemed to be calming the two.
“Right now Holly is curled up on some towels, purring and grooming. No more wide-eyed fears from our lovely lady. Got some nuzzles and head-butts from Molly too,” she said.
That was also when my friend realized why the two girls had been so insistent to escape the room—despite the fact it was November, Holly was in heat. They’d never been spayed. Add hormones to the emotional traumas and you get a pretty volatile situation. My friend noted that there was an occasional yowl of a different sort than the day before and felt an urgency to have them spayed. Even in a good moment they would be considered hard to handle so I advised her to use a vet who understood working with stray and feral cats, and to have them both done so the absence of one wouldn’t cause a recognition trauma in the other. I gave her information on the TNR clinics, the shelter availabilities, and the low-cost spay-neuter clinic. They were spayed the next week and recovered, both physically and emotionally, with just a few minor issues.
I had offered to visit and help socialize the two, but right about that time I brought Bert and Ernie home and had my own pair of less-than-socialized cats to work with, and knew that if my friend needed help with an issue like the escape, she would ask. Recently I’d been wondering about the two and how they were doing, especially knowing they were to be moved on to the rescue after Christmas, and yesterday I saw a message on Facebook that the two had been adopted that day, a little less than two months after their great escape, and four months after their loss. They had actually socialized very well after being spayed and while still timid with strangers they were hardly the unpredictable, rather unsocialized cats they’d been.
Now they will have an understanding forever home instead of the fate that would have been if they’d either been tossed out of the house and left to roam, or trapped and surrendered to a shelter as often happens with even friendly cats who are clearly pets. And we hope their human is at rest now from her own troubles and knowing the two cats who’d shared her life will be loved and cared for.
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